HBO Max: How Theaters Might Try to Undercut Streaming Releases

HBO Max generated possibly the biggest entertainment story of the year on Dec. 3. Following the initial announcement of Wonder Woman 1984 coming to the streaming service on Dec. 25, Warner Bros. dropped a bombshell. Now, all of its 2021 film releases would be coming to the service for a limited time, in addition to theaters.

The move sent shockwaves through the industry and once the initial buzz died down, the backlash set in. Filmmakers were understandably miffed that their projects had been turned into streaming fodder without their input or consent. Perhaps more so, theater owners were livid, seeing the move as the biggest attack yet on their continued operation.

Theaters are weighing retaliation against HBO Max

HBO Max will stream Dune
Timothee Chalamet in ‘Dune,’ coming soon to HBO Max. | Chiabella James/Warner Bros.

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A report from The Hollywood Reporter detailed the reaction from the film exhibition business to the HBO Max decision. Notably, it features hearsay from industry insiders about how theaters might try to undercut Warner Bros. films in theaters.

The insiders claim that some chains are mulling the idea of selling Warner Bros. tickets at a deep discount, around $3-5. It’s not specified which companies are considering this, but the report mentions the likes of AMC and Cinemark in the same paragraph.

This move would be an attempt to make sure that Warner Bros. made as little money as possible from theaters. To the same end, they are also considering upping their cut of ticket sales to 75-80%, way higher than the standard rate. This would effectively leave Warner with pocket change.

Whether these tactics would bring about any tangible change or if they might make Warner Bros. feel the sting remains to be seen. Considering the success to be found in the ever-exploding streaming market, the studio might not even care about these slights to their bottom line.

HBO Max is set to explode in 2021

HBO Max will stream Wonder Woman 1984
HBO Max will stream ‘Wonder Woman 1984.’ | Clay Enos/DC Comics

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Since its launch in May, HBO Max has been somewhat slow to grow. Original shows like Love Life and Raised by Wolves have seen success, but the service has notched only 12.6 million subscribers as of December, Deadline reports. The blame for this sluggish start has been pinned on everything from streaming fatigue to a difficulty getting HBO Now subscribers to convert their accounts.

The avalanche of blockbuster film releases coming to the platform in 2021 is almost guaranteed to draw viewers. The planned releases include major blockbusters like The Suicide Squad and The Matrix 4, as well as smaller, star-driven offerings like The Little Things with Denzel Washington and Cry Macho with Clint Eastwood.

The service will also see an influx of high-profile DC Comics adaptations starting next year. This includes big-budget shows based on Green Lantern and Justice League Dark, as well as Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a cut of 2017’s Justice League expanded to a four-episode miniseries by Snyder himself.

HBO Max will also inherit shows from DC Universe as the platform pivots away from original shows. This will include new seasons of Titans, Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn, and Young Justice.